It’s Pho Real
A tasty recipe, why pho is great for summer, and a look at the best local hubs.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I first fell for pho one hot night in Bangkok, in an alley where food carts were serving nothing but Thai-style pho, aka Guoi Tiao, or “noodle soup.” A vendor called out to me. I nodded.
She delivered a caddy of sauces, and a plate piled with bean sprouts, chili peppers, basil, cilantro, mint, green onions and a lime wedge. This side salad represents an evolution of traditional pho that began in Hanoi, where pho was transplanted by northern hill folk fleeing southward from the communists.
Although some northern Vietnamese purists consider the salad-in-your-soup thing something of a pho-paux, if you will, I think adding fragrant herbs and crunchy sprouts is a spectacular development.
The vendor placed a huge bowl before me, and its contents steamed my face as I dropped the basil into the bowl along with sprouts, a squeeze of lime, and a splash of the sauces, which tasted hot, sour, sweet, spicy and fishy.
As I slurped, the back of my neck became cool, thanks to the evaporation of the sweat that had gathered there. When my pho was gone, that my nose was running and my shirt was drenched.
The hot soup had heated and hydrated my body, while the chili got the adrenaline flowing, giving me a refreshing, cleansing sweat. Thanks to the way it cooled me down that hot night, pho remains one of my secret weapons of summer, alongside cold soups like gazpacho.
In addition to the cleansing hot flashes, another reason summer is pho season is the bounty of veggie options to liven up your bowl with, especially if you make pho from scratch.
Here’s a recipe for a traditional pho of beef flank (or some other tough cut). Those who want alternate meats or vegetarian options can modify accordingly.
Parboil some beef bones for 10 minutes to release the scum and particles, then dump that water and put the bones in 6 quarts of clean water. Bring the pot to a boil and then simmer with 8 star anise pods (either whole or in pieces), 1 tablespoon cardamom pods, a 3 inch cinnamon stick, 6 cloves, 4 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon salt, a half-cup of sugar, and 1 pound of tough red meat cut into 2-inch chunks.
Andrea Nguyen, who’s written extensively about pho for the San Jose Mercury News (and whose mother is from North Vietnam), insists on the importance of adding char-roasted onions and ginger to the broth. To do this, slowly cook two medium yellow onions and a 4-inch piece of ginger over an open flame until lightly burned– charred, blistered and fragrant. Allow these to cool, remove the blackened parts under the faucet, or with a knife, and add whole to the broth.
When the meat is falling-apart tender, remove it. The stock should simmer for three hours total.
Close to serving time, blanch some rice noodles (for 10–20 seconds) in boiling water. Rinse the noodles, drain and set aside. They should be a little soft, but still al-dente (they’ll finish cooking when the broth is added).
Assemble the sprouts, scallions, chili peppers, leafy herbs and lime wedges. Condiments? Hoisin sauce and red chili sauce (such as Sriracha). Fill a third of each bowl with noodles and place cooked meat atop the noodles, along with fresh, raw veggies, like thin-sliced carrots, peas, onions or broccoli. Ladle broth into the bowls and serve.
Have plenty of napkins on hand as you sip and sweat your way through a meal you won’t quickly pho-get.
Pho, a brothy soup of rice noodles and beef, was created about 100 years ago in northern Vietnam. It’s pronounced like “fur” without the “r,” though it’s often mistakenly called “faux.” The word “pho” is probably a twist on the French feu, meaning fire. Below, five good places to raise the temperature around town:An Choi Restaurant
1120 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 372-8818Noodle Bar Restaurant
1944 Fremont Blvd., Seaside, 392-0210Orient Restaurant
University Plaza, Fremont Boulevard and Echo, Seaside, 394-2223Pho King
1153 Fremont Blvd., Seaside, 899-1424Cafe Lumiere (Wednesdays only)
365 Calle Principal, Monterey, 920-2451